Next week 30 May – 5 June is Samoa Language Week and in recognition of the importance of the Samoan culture and language in Aotearoa we interviewed 72-year-old ‘Mummy Jan’ or Janice Taouma, as she is known to the grownups in her life.
Jan was recently recognised as an ECE hero and has run the A’oga Fa’a Samoa, the first Samoan early childhood centre, for more than 40 years.
Throughout her career Jan has supported and encouraged her staff to qualify as early childhood teachers and some have gone on to open their own centres.
Jan has dedicated her career to the early childhood sector and has worked hard to share the early childhood education curriculum of Samoan Amata with across the motu.
What is your professional background and career experience?
I was a primary and high school teacher previous to helping set up the A’oga Fa’a Samoa in 1984 and have been involved at the A’oga Fa’a Samoa as a coordinator and now manager since 1984- 2021.
I have also been part of various MOE contracts working with Pasifika centres, and licensing for all centres and have been on various advisory groups for the MOE. I was on the national council for Te Tari Puna Ora for many years.
What attracted you to a career in the early childhood sector?
When I became involved with the A’oga Fa’a Samoa and became passionate about the importance of Samoan children learning in a quality environment that emphasised their culture and language.
What does a ‘normal’ day look like for you?
Checking the centre, greeting staff and parents joining in the morning lotu, meeting with my senior teacher, doing my admin tasks. If we have new enrolments I spend time meeting with the family going over our philosophy and showing them around centre.
Dealing with whatever the day brings and when I can, spending time with the children. We often have meetings in the evening with either staff or management.
What makes your service unique?
We are an immersion Samoan centre based on the site of Richmond Road Primary School in central Auckland. The school has a Samoan unit of three classes as part of the school.
The A’oga Fa’a Samoa is set up in two buildings with a deck shaped like a Samoan family where morning lotu and mealtimes are held.
The A’oga Fa’a Samoa has key teachers (attachment theory) to stay with their group of children through the five years at the A’oga.
At around two and a half the group of children and their teacher transition to the older children building. They stay together until the children have transitioned into the Samoan unit in the Primary school.
This builds up a wonderful long-term relationship between the teacher and the child and family.
The A’oga Fa’a Samoa teachers only communicate with the children in Samoan.
We use the Samoan values of alofa (love), tautua (service), and faaloalo (respect) to guide our work.
Children in our service engage in a range of different activities including morning lotu which involves greetings in Samoan, Samoan dance and song, blessing food in Samoan, learning the value of respect, using the cultural artifacts as part of the curriculum and sitting together as a group for meals crossed legged on mats.
Why do you feel that your service is so vital to your community?
Children need to be confident in who they are as Samoan children growing up in Aotearoa. Having a pride in themselves as a Samoan gives them confidence to learn and achieve.
We are able to provide a wonderful transition programme into primary school allowing them to have a language pathway. We work as a community of learners at Richmond Road alongside the Kohanga Reo, Te Whanau Whariki, and the French language unit giving families a unique opportunity to be a part of a rich language community.
The Samoan unit Gafua o le Ata at the local intermediate Kowhai Intermediate school, has also provided language continuance.
What do you love about working in early learning?
The ability to give children a wonderful foundation to start their lifelong learning. For me seeing my children, grandchildren and now great grandchildren grow develop and become leaders has been wonderful
What are some of the biggest challenges facing the sector?
For Pasifika early childhood the lack of trained teachers has always been a concern. Attracting younger people into training is problem as we are left with an ageing work force.
Financial constraints are always a problem and until early education has pay parity with the rest of the sector it will remain hard to attract people to choose ECE as a career.
How has your service changed to deal with these challenges?
As we have been operating for a very long time, we realised from the beginning the importance of having trained teacher registered staff and so we chose a provider Te Rito Maioha (former Te Tari Puna Ora o Aotearoa) which is field based to train our staff.
This allowed them to work and train at the same time. All our staff are required to be trained and even though it was a financial cost it has benefited us to provide the education for our children we believe in.
How does the early childhood industry need to change to adapt to these challenges?
Recognise the importance of language and culture. Increase funding to keep staff. Have a strong marketing initiative to attract Pasifika students into ECE and encourage families to be involved.